Dictator Sulla

Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix is commonly as Dictator Sulla. He was a Roman general and statesman with the distinction of holding the office of consul twice. He was awarded the grass crown, the most prestigious and rarest Roman military honor, during the Social War. In histories, Sulla is usually paired with Lysander, the Spartan general and strategist.

Sulla’s became dictator at the worst point in the struggle known as the Social War. The Romans’ policy of land distribution had led to great inequality of land-ownership and wealth throughout the Italian peninsula. Sula’s contemporary and eventual rival, Gaius Marius, represented the populares. He challenged the existing order to further rights for the general body of free citizens that were not in the aristocracy. His efforts would have granted Roman allies full Roman citizenship and given them a say in Roman Republic policies. The optimates greatly opposed this idea, and sought to preserve keep power among the rich and the Senate.

In a dispute over army command, Sulla unconstitutionally marched his armies into Rome and waged war on Marius. When he defeated his rival in battle, Sula revived the office of dictator, an office that had been active for over a century since the Second Punic War.  He used the powers of the position to enact a series of reforms to the Roman constitution that restored the power of the Senate and the tribunes. He retired from the dictatorship after seeking election to and serving a second consulship.

Sulla’s decision to seize power permanently destabilized the Roman power structure. Later leaders like Julius Caesar would follow the precedent set by the dictator. Future rulers took their political power through force. Ironically, Sulla was only able to wage war on the capital because of Marius’s military reforms bound the army’s loyalty with the general instead of the Empire.

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